A significant issue facing many business owners is the impact of underfunded multiemployer pension plans. This is most common, but not exclusive to, unionized businesses. McDermott Partner and Global Head of the Firm’s Employee Benefits and Executive Compensation Practice Group Todd Solomon joins Domenic Rinaldi, owner and managing partner of Sun Acquisitions, for a recent episode of the M&A Unplugged Podcast to talk about multiemployer pension plans and discuss proactive steps owners can take to get ahead of future issues regarding pension participants.
Several large employers are disputing how much money the New York Times owes a union multiemployer pension fund. Recently, six companies—including US Foods Inc. and United Natural Foods Inc.—filed an amicus brief supporting the New York Times in its case before the US Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit. Ruprecht Co., an Illinois meat processor, also filed its own brief in support of the New York Times.
Under the Employer Retirement Income Security Act of 1974 (ERISA), when determining an employer’s withdrawal liability, the actuarial assumptions and methods must “offer the actuary’s best estimate of the anticipated experience under the plan.” The underlying issue in this case involves an actuarial method called the “Segal Blend,” which often is used to value unfunded vested benefits and calculate withdrawal liability (an exit fee) from a union multiemployer pension plan. Under the Segal Blend, the actuary blends the multiemployer plan’s assumed interest rate on investments with a lower interest rate used by the Pension Benefit Guaranty Corporation for terminating plans. Many multiemployer pension plans commonly use the Segal Blend to calculate an employer’s unfunded liability and payment upon exiting the multiemployer plan (known as “withdrawal liability”). These large employers claim that using the Segal Blend results in an artificially lower interest rate, which in turn results in larger employer withdrawal liability and larger amounts an employer must pay to exit the multiemployer pension plan.
View From McDermott: Multiemployer Union Plans Implement Aggressive Litigation Strategies to Fill $390 Billion Funding Deﬁcit
While the funded status of single-employer corporate defined benefit pension plans has improved, the funded status of multiemployer union pension plans has remained stagnate and, in some cases, further deteriorated. The Pension Benefits Guaranty Corporation recently reported to Congress that the aggregate funding ratio of all multiemployer plans was 48 percent. From the most recent data available, the PBGC reports that multiemployer pension plans have $366 billion in assets to satisfy $757 billion in vested liabilities—in short, a funding deficit of $390 billion.
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*Reproduced with permission from Bloomberg BNA Pension & Benefits Daily.
Third Circuit Holds that a Portion of Post-Petition Withdrawal Liability in Bankruptcy Is Entitled to Priority Over General Unsecured Claims
Recently, the Third Circuit held that withdrawal liability triggered after a bankruptcy filing date may be apportioned to pre- and post-petition service for the debtor, and that the withdrawal liability attributable to post-petition service may be entitled to priority over general unsecured claims under the Bankruptcy Code. Employers that participate in a multiemployer pension plan should determine the claims impact of withdrawal in light of this court decision and also assess whether filing for bankruptcy protection outside of the Third Circuit is appropriate.
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